Back in the spring of 1999, during a year where the world panicked about the dawn of a new millennium and what ‘Y2K’ may do to its computer systems, we met a sponge who just so happened to live in a pineapple under the sea. Fast forward more than twenty years and SpongeBob SquarePants is up there with the Simpsons as one of the most beloved animated characters of all-time. While the family that lives at 742 Evergreen Terrace holds the proverbial crown, Stephen Hillenburg’s creation isn’t far off.
In those days, almost every popular movie or TV show seemed to get a licensed video game adaptation, no matter the genre. This led to over-saturation and a market that was flooded by forgettable adaptations, many of which were pumped out quickly with little worry about quality. After all, quality generally wasn’t front of mind. That’s where the idea of cashing in on a hot property and milking unsuspecting fans of mega bucks resided. Thus, the licensed video game genre became hated and eventually stalled in recent years. This isn’t to say that there haven’t been games based on existing properties like Batman or even Hotel Transylvania 3; it’s just that they became very rare for a while, and developers seemed to realize that they needed to put more effort into them. The consumer became wise, and the gravy train came to a crashing halt.
I’ve played many licensed games over the years, and it’s something that continues to this day, for review purposes and because of my own morbid curiosity. I reviewed the most recent Ice Age game and it wasn’t bad. On top of that, I borrowed the Hotel Transylvania 3 game from the library. Perhaps I’m a masochist. That said, not all of these games were bad in the 90s or 2000s, nor are they all bad to this day. We know that some have been great, with those being Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham Asylum and its sequels, and Marvel’s Spider-Man. However, some of the seemingly overlooked and dismissed titles were better than they were ever given credit for. Examples include the Super Nintendo’s Goof Troop and Hook, both of which I was addicted to as a kid, some of the early Toy Story games, and last generation’s Toy Story 3, which was an incredible kids game. The same was pretty true of Cars 2, which surprised the hell out of me. Hell, even Ice Age: Scrat’s Nutty Adventure was decent enough to shock me.
Another of these releases was 2003’s SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom, which hit the PlayStation 2, Xbox, GameCube, PC and Game Boy Advance on Halloween Day. Although it wasn’t set the world on fire good, it was good enough to become a cult classic, and part of that reason was speed-running notoriety. It’s apparently been pretty famous within that circle, which was news to me.
For transparency’s sake, I must admit two things before we go any further:
1. I never played the first Battle for Bikini Bottom. It was one that I missed during an era where I owned and rented tons of games.
2. I’ve maybe seen two or three episodes of SpongeBob SquarePants in my life. By 1999, I was obsessed with The X-Files and The Simpsons, and was starting to go out with friends. I also didn’t have cable, which made it almost impossible to watch SpongeBob unless I was at my grandparents’. My parents still don’t have cable, and actually can’t get it.
Fast forward to today, and that very game has been remade with modern consoles in mind, thanks to a partnership between THQ Nordic and Purple Lamp Studios. Although I never played the original, I was excited to review the brand new SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated edition, because of all of the talk and hype surrounding it. That, plus how fun and colourful it looked. I’d also be lying if I said that I wasn’t both curious and nostalgic for simpler times.
After spending hours with this thing, though, I must say that I’m not as impressed as I’d thought or hoped I’d be. The hype surrounding the game continues to be quite impressive, but the fun that it provided me was somewhat minimal. It’s not bad, nor is it forgettable. It’s just mediocre and archaic feeling.
SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated takes place a few seasons into the show. At that point in cartoon time, the pants wearing sea sponge found himself having to deal with a robotic invasion. Of course, that jerk Plankton was in the middle of it all. His attempt to create docile robots failed when he forgot to switch the manufacturing machine from its ‘Don’t Obey’ to its ‘Obey’ setting. What resulted was a non-compliant, mean spirited army of nuts and bolts.
At its core, however, this is a platforming collect-a-thon, which sends fans through the colourful and underwater world of Bikini Bottom. Those familiar with the show will recognize the numerous environments SpongeBob and company must traverse and explore, including his neighbourhood, downtown Bikini Bottom, the Kelp Forest, the Mermalair and the Goo Lagoon. There’s even a trip to a beach, where sun must be manipulated into burning a distant enemy and children tied to balloons can be helped down.
Each of these contained stages is its own world of sorts, in the vein of something like Banjo-Kazooie. As such, all of them have multiple objectives and collectibles to both complete and earn. The most important of these collectibles happens to be golden spatulas, which are the currency you’ll need to amass in order to unlock new areas of the game world. These are earned for progressing the story, as well as for taking the time to complete optional challenges in each stage. Each one offers maybe seven to nine of the things.
You can earn additional spatulas by finding and turning in ten of Patrick’s stinky socks, or by paying Mr. Krabs an obscene amount of shiny things. These colour-coded shinies are in-game currency, and they’re found everywhere you travel. They’re in the air, on top of platforms, inside of boxes, and in buildings too. You’ll also need to pay them to clams in order to progress, so don’t expect to give every one you earn to the talking crab.
Needless to say, your main goal is to collect and earn as many golden spatulas as possible. To do this, you’ll take control of SpongeBob, Patrick and Sandy, all of whom happen to have their own unique abilities. Bob can bowl bubbles, slam himself upwards or downwards using them and attack enemies through melee means. Meanwhile, Patrick is more of a brute who likes to slam stomach first, and can also pick up and throw watermelons. Why, I don’t know. Sandy is the most varied of the bunch, because she can swing from hooks and use a rope to hover in the air for short periods of time. This allows the player to reach distant platforms that the other two characters could never.
While the game world is colourful and there’s lots of nice attention to detail that fans will appreciate, the core gameplay remains stuck in 2003. This likely won’t come as a surprise to most, or disappoint longtime fans, but those who are expecting an updated and more modernized remake may not be as enthused. If you didn’t like character platformers back then, it’s likely that you won’t like SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated all that much. It’s stuck in time, and is slower and more clunky than anything we play today. It also doesn’t have the polish of the triple-A games of its time, such as Nintendo’s SuperMario franchise, or Rare’s incredible Banjo-Kazooie games for the Nintendo 64. The characters’ movements have a lot of weight behind them and are kind of slow as a result. The game also has a penchant for putting enemies right at the edge of platforms that you’ll need to jump to in order to progress.
There’s one particular section in an early level, where an enemy that shoots tartar sauce stands right at the edge of a cliff and makes it very difficult to jump where one needs to. Failure to make the jump would mean missing the first boss and not being able to progress. It’s not like it has to do with some optional objective that can be missed. As a result, those who play the game will need to try to jump to the side and around him, and will have to do this in other areas as well.
What I’m trying to say is that Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated isn’t the most player friendly game out there. This is a bigger knock now, given that we’re talking about something that has been remade (not remastered) for, and is competing against modern titles for, current consoles in the year of 2020. Seventeen years have passed, and it doesn’t feel like many improvements were made. The combat is slow and basic, the throwing mechanics are far from perfect, and it’s very easy to get hit because enemies are often quicker than the characters themselves. Attacking one can leave you vulnerable to an attack by another before your animation concludes and the game registers a second player input.
Swapping between these three characters is also more difficult than need be. I get that the developers wanted to be faithful to the original, but they were to a fault here. In 2020, switching characters should be as easy as pressing a button, but it’s not. Instead, you’re limited to two characters per stage (or so it seemed), and can only swap them at bus stops. These are limited, and aren’t always located at the best of spots, but they get the job done. The good thing, though, is that they’re usually placed beside puzzles that require a different character. The only problem is that, if you notice a secret that could use a different character’s abilities in a later part of a stage, you’ll have to trudge back to the last stop to morph into them. This can lead to getting lost, or having to deal with frustrating sections again.
In true SpongeBob fashion, player health isn’t displayed in hearts or via any sort of bar. Instead, it’s all dictated by how many pairs of underwear you have. You’ll start with the ability to pick up and hold onto three, but will quickly upgrade that to four if you find the power-up. This will help quite a bit, not because this is an overly difficult game, but because it’s a bit cheap at times. The controls are a bit clunky, and it can be very easy to lose progress because of a poorly timed hit from a robot, especially if one happens to knock you off of a ledge or rooftop that took some time to get to.
It should also be pointed out that, although a lot of the golden spatulas are pretty easy or straightforward to get, some can be rather obtuse or feel impossible. Objectives aren’t always clear, and a spatula may drop without you even being aware of it. Some also require great timing, or are made more difficult by the controls. The nice thing, though, is that you can travel to any objective you’ve passed through the in-game menu. This makes it easy to jump from one level to another without having to venture through the overworld.
What I don’t understand, though, is why the characters cannot swim. They live under the sea, but for whatever reason they’re unable to swim or move around in the ‘goo’ that represents water in these stages. Patrick can freeze it, but other than that you can’t touch it without getting hurt or dying. I did, however, like the wedgie jumping that allows you to basically bungie jump by your underpants and reach special items that happen to be hovering over said ‘water.’
Of course, as is the case with almost all of these types of games, there are occasional boss battles. They’re fun, quirky and generally not too difficult. On top of that, they’re also quite funny, given that they’re narrated by a talking fish. This is SpongeBob after all.
The boss fights offer a bit of fresh air, and help break up some of the monotony that comes from the core gameplay, which is alright but ends up getting tedious after a while. They’re not spectacular, but they are somewhat creative.
What’s not very creative is the tacked on multiplayer mode, which is basically a simple co-op horde mode. I wasn’t able to play it, because we only received one code and I didn’t have anyone here to play it with, but what I’ve watched online looks very basic and uninspired. Don’t buy this thing for its co-op/multiplayer.
It’s obvious that a lot of effort went into remaking Battle for Bikini Bottom and remaining faithful to what is a cult classic, but not enough effort was put into making this a fun experience in the year 2020. Dialogue is stilted, characters repeat the same couple of lines over and over again, and jokes aren’t common enough. The gameplay is also more clunky than it should be, and its tedium becomes a weight after a while. The developers do deserve a lot of credit, though, for the attention and care that they put into modernizing the visuals. This isn’t just some quick coat of lipstick on an old horse. A lot of sweat was obviously put into recreating SpongeBob’s world and its characters, not to mention a lot of attention to detail. The voices also sound quite good, even if the game doesn’t include all of the original voice actors, such as Clancy Brown. That said, I read that he wasn’t in the original.
The music can get a bit annoying after a while, but it’s what you’d expect from such a game. It’s fine, but repetitive and a bit too quirky at times.
At the end of the day, SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated is somewhat of a relic despite being a brand new remake. Fans of the original will likely relish the chance to revisit this speedrunner’s dream, but newcomers may not be as generous with what boils down to a surprisingly slow paced and occasionally frustrating collect-a-thon. The developers could have modernized the experience more, while still remaining true to the original, but they seem to have mostly focused on the visuals. I was excited to play this thing for the first time, but struggled to find the interest to keep going after the first three or four hours, and didn’t end up having all that much fun despite growing up with these types of titles. Perhaps this was never a great game to begin with, and was always just okay.
If you’re a fan of the series, you’ll likely want to check this one out, especially if you enjoyed it back in the early 2000s. However, if you’re someone like me who doesn’t have much nostalgia for the characters or their TV show, you may want to pass and spend your hard earned and limited money on something else.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game. We were provided with a code by THQ Nordic.
SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom - Rehydrated simply isn't all that fun. It looks nice, but feels dated and sluggish.
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The Good Stuff
The new coat of paint is quite impressive in comparison to the original's visuals
Lots of fanfare and nostalgia for those who grew up with the show